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10 Steps to Slowing Down the Gossip Train

Nothing cuts through the core of our heart and soul more than unkind chatter at work among colleagues that is meant to be hurtful. Often times, personal details about an individual are shared with others with the intention of causing personal harm and damage to one’s reputation.  These comments, regardless of whether they are false, true, or somewhere in between scattered with uninformed half-truths, are toxic to schools, businesses, & organizations alike. My interactions with others over time have convinced me that gossip is one of the biggest culture killers we are facing today in the work environment.  And until we begin to address the gossip in our work places, we will never reach the standard of excellence most organizations aspire to achieve, or in many cases, expect and even advertise.

I decided to share my thoughts on this topic because of a number of educators who have reached out to me privately over the last few months who are at a loss of what to do. When they described the level of toxicity in their organization and shared specific examples of the things that had been shared, I couldn’t help but think that the amount of gossiping that exists in our schools & organizations has reached epidemic proportions. The individuals who contacted me were genuinely hurting, struggling on what to do & how to respond, and in some cases, contemplating leaving their schools in hopes of finding a healthier culture. This is discouraging on so many levels because quite frankly, we cannot afford to be losing dedicated and caring school employees to such bullish behavior. Our teachers and support staff cannot be at their best if they are having to worry about constant negative behavior or worse yet, risking finding themselves at the mercy of hurtful gossip. In these specific cases, none of these teachers and principals had been on the receiving end (that they were aware of anyway), but rather had grown tired and weary of others who were gossiping about their colleagues and feeling and seeing the negative impact on their teammates and buildings. I did my best to support them and give them some suggestions on how to deal with those in their organizations who seem to thrive on hurting others through their unkind words.

So, how can we begin to do our part to stop this epidemic?  Here are a few suggestions on how to address the gossipers.

  1. Take time to listen to what they have to say. Warning. Staying silent could send the wrong message and give this person the impression that you agree with their comments. So make sure to…
  2. follow up with a question(s). You will want to make sure that you did not misunderstand what was shared while at the same time being clear that you are not taking sides. Ex: “Are you saying that…? Then…
  3. express your gratitude for their trust. It’s okay to respond to those who gossip to you directly that you appreciate the fact they felt comfortable enough to share such comments with you. However, in order to not come across as party to the gossip, be sure to…
  4. defend the victim. Respond to the gossiper by telling them that this has not been your personal experience with this individual(s). And even if it has been your experience it is not your place to judge. At this point, I suggest you…
  5. follow up and challenge them in a caring and respectful way. Ask if they have had an opportunity to communicate this to the person(s) they are gossiping about. If not (which is usually the case), remind them that we are all vulnerable to others sharing things about us that are hurtful and verbalizing that…
  6. we all should be given the opportunity to respond before comments are shared about us. Advocate for the victim by pointing out to the gossiper that most people if given the opportunity, would want to know what they could do to alleviate any concerns by either stopping the behavior that resulted in the chatter, admitting wrongdoing, or clarifying a potential misunderstanding. Afterwards, …
  7. ensure them that what they shared will stay with you & that they need not worry that you would share this with others, especially the intended target(s). Express to them that you have no intentions of violating their trust & that what they shared will stay with you in confidence.  In a direct way…
  8. encourage them again to go talk to the individual(s) they are talking to you about because you have no desire to listen their comments again until they have shared their thoughts openly with the person they were talking about. As you walk away…
  9. give them permission to come talk to you again to share what they learned from the other person after they have spoken to them. And finally…
  10. maintain your integrity & never repeat to others what was shared with you.

There is no perfect formula that will guarantee that we can eliminate gossip from the work environment forever. However, I do believe that we can reduce its toxic impact if we begin to treat the host(s) in a way that reminds them that we are all prone to this disease, and rather than join in, we should join together. By following the steps above, we improve our chances of the gossipers not returning to share their hurtful words with us, thereby reducing the pool of people who are willing to take part in this toxic practice. Ultimately, we are all responsible for minimizing the number of gossipers in our organizations and the only way to do so, is to take personal responsibility for combatting them with integrity so that they walk away having had someone model to them how to manage themselves in a more caring, positive, and productive way.  Remember, when we gossip, it actually says more about us than the people we are gossiping about.

Rather than jump on the gossip train, pause and ask yourself, “I wonder what they are saying about me to others when they walk away?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments
  • Erik Buchholz
    3 weeks ago

    Thanks Jimmy. As usual great words of advice!

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